Seattle’s renowned theatre architect, B. Marcus (Benny) Priteca, sitting in the “Louis XIV majesty chair” he had appointed for it 40 years earlier, and holding a glass of champagne as high as his eye, gave a “farewell toast” to what many considered the greatest of the more than 150 theatres he had designed: Seattle’s own Orpheum. The champagne, it was explained, helped both the popcorn go down and the pain of losing the landmark. Seattle Times photographer Vic Condiotty’s recording of Priteca’s toast appeared in the paper’s issue for June 19, 1967.
One week later the “majestic chair” was sold in the anticipated two-day auction supervised by Greenfield Galleries. It’s proprietor, Lou Greenfield explained “everything will be sold that can be unscrewed, chiseled or blasted loose . . . You can buy a chunk of marble of the wall if you want, but the problem of removing it is yours.” Greenfield added, “The dismantling of much of the theatre’s majestic interior will be impractical. It will fall victim to the wrecking ball.” That last observation can serve as the caption for the colored slide printed here at the top that Frank Shaw took of the Orpheum’s battered proscenium arch on the 10th of September ‘67.
The auction began on Monday June 26. A day earlier the then 74 year-old Priteca, “In a reminiscent mood” – and candid too – was again quoted in the Times, this time by John Hartl. “Priteca thought the ‘modernizing’ the Orpheum had undergone in recent years was unforgivably tasteless. ‘There’s some beautiful stuff behind that cheap cloth,’ he said pointing to the gaudy draperies that now cover the stage.”
Orpheum marble had legs. Two weeks after the auction an ad in the Times read, in part, “Fine Imported Marble . . . All From the ORPHEUM. Bargain Prices.” This time there was no indication that a buyer would be required to not only pay for and pick up the marble at the theatre but remove it from the walls as well. Some of that polished rock made it to a Queen Anne yard sale years later. It now covers part of my desk.
What a poignant story of loss, beautifully told, Paul. I know you have much to add this week.
Rather Jean we will hold back and give less than we might have, for thru the years, you know, we have featured the Orpheum and/or its neighbors many times. For instance – and see below – three years ago this March we ran one on the Orpheum’s opening and, compliments of Ron Edge, also a copy of the elegant chapbook that tooted its production and anticipated opening in 1927. Now Ron has brought the booklet back below with a link to it thru its cover. Be patient for the download. It is followed by another link – one to the recent feature of March March 13, 2010. You may agree Jean that those three years have pass so impetuously that it feels like a punch in the body clock. But Jean, the title you have created “Orpheum Descending” for this feature as it appears here on top shows the edge of eternity like a good classic and so for the moment at least we are freed from time.
Camera West photographer Bill Houlton engaged Seattle Rep. actress Pauline Flanagan to pose beneath the ruins of the Orpheum’s proscenium arch. Below her two poses is another clip from the Times, an especially nostalgic one for older locals easily evoked by memories of the Seattle’s early Rep. Our Jean who acted with the Rep as a talented and tall prospect long ago answered me “I did not know Flanagan, but I bet actors I acted with did.” Surely they did.
NOTE: At least on my MAC I need to click the clip below TWICE in order to enlarge it for reading!
TIMES SQUARE by A. Curtis
(First appeared in Pacific, Sept. 11, 1994)
This portrait of Times Square is almost a potboiler. Well-copied and well-studied, even the moment of the photographer Asahel Curtis’ recording is known: Oct. 11, 1927, and, judging by the long shadows, sometime around closing time.
It doesn’t require an honoree of the American Institute of Architects to figure out what is so appealing about this image. Start with its centerpiece, the Orpheum Theater. Most likely Curtis was preoccupied with this palace, which opened in 1927. As the multistoried sign on the roof proclaims, the Orpheum offered both vaudeville and films. But with the introduction of “talkies” that year, the future of stage acts here and at other venues was bleak. Reading the marquee, “Varness, the IT girl of Vaudeville” and “Beatrice Joy in Dances on Broadway” may never have returned here.
Two of Seattle’s terra-cotta landmarks enter from the sides: the Times Square Building on the left and the lower stories of the Medical-Dental Building on the right. The former was home for The Times from 1916 to 1931; the latter, built in 1925, is still the professional home of many physicians. (Far right is a sliver of the Frederick & Nelson Building, built in 1918.)
It is the diagonal of Westlake Avenue that creates these opportunities for landmarks to greet each other across intersections made interesting by their irregularity. First proposed as early at the mid-1870s, Westlake was finally cut through in 1906. Here at Times Square the city’s layout was made doubly engaging by its shift at Stewart Street.